Smoke and Frescoes: the Papal Buzz

I think it was Aristotle who famously said, “All men by nature desire to know [who the next Pope will be.]” Perhaps that is a bit anachronistic or syncretistic, but the point is clear: we are in papal buzz mode. Today, as the cardinals cast their first vote, we are all fixed intently on the Sistine chapel chimney more assiduously than curious kids on Christmas. I admit that the chatter and the twitter have been hard to avoid whether one has accidentally stumbled upon the cardinals’ social media scoreboard, or voluntarily downloaded iConclave. It seems many would trade in their humanity, just to be one of the frescos in the Sistine chapel’s ceiling, the conclave’s concave cover: “Please let me be a patriarch, a prophet, a sibyl, or at least a cherub on the wall—anything that will allow me to spy on the flurry of red beneath me and see the ballots strung on a string like popcorn or cranberries on an evergreen.”

There seems to be something wrong with this mentality. All of the recent papal buzz seems to have generated a mountain of mutually shared ignorance—or, worse yet, the illicit leaking of information. Knowledge of the inner workings of an important event can make one feel important. One can easily be deceived into thinking that their knowledge grants them the status of an agent with the same suffrage as a cardinal. Knowledge is power. I know about something (or I think I know about something) and therefore I must exercise some power over it. The specific application is clear: If people read a lot about the papal election, they can think they are affecting it.

I could continue in this vein and condemn how some have fallen into the vice of curiositas by seeking, “things too great and marvels beyond them” (Cf. Ps 131:1). However, as fun as it can be to moralize, I will pass up this opportunity. Rather, I want to point out that by getting drawn into the papal media buzz, one might forget the real calling of the moment, and the small yet real way we can act as agents.

We are called not to vote in the conclave nor even to observe it—as only Michelangelo’s frescoes can. Rather, we are called to pray. We are called to pray for the cardinals, for the Church, and for the future pope. And mysteriously, the prayer of petition is always an opportunity to participate in some small way in divine providence. Our models for this week are not the reporters in Rome, but rather the contemplative nun who has undertaken even greater Lenten penances for the sake of the conclave, and yet without reading any blogs, or the widow who has doubled her daily rosaries since Pope Benedict’s resignation, and yet does not know the name of a single cardinal.  Our task today is to join them at the heart of the Church.

Image: Michelangelo, Daniel (Sistine Chapel)

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Br. Raymund Snyder, O.P.

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Br. Raymund Snyder entered the Order of Preachers in 2010. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he studied philosophy and classics. On DominicanFriars.org